Henri Bergson, William James, and the Society for Psychical Research

Henri Bergson

Genevieve Stebbins, or rather her collaborator “A Pilgrim of the Way,” wrote in The Quest of the Spirit: “a true philosophy of life is the work of the future, in which the great philosophical systems of the past will form but a very subordinate part of the structure.  We are convinced that the chief foundation-stones will be discovered in the works of Eucken, Bergson, and James.”   Eucken will be the subject of a future blog post, but the juxtaposition of the names of Bergson and James led me to a pair of clues that are interesting in terms of Church of Light influences.  Henri Bergson and William James were not just philosophical colleagues but close friends, and James was intending to write the introduction to the English translation of Bergson’s Creative Evolution but died before it was completed.  The language about creation and evolution in the Brotherhood of Light lessons is strongly reminiscent of Bergson’s themes, and Bergson’s younger sister Moina Mathers was one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.  Like James, Bergson was interested in parapsychology.  At the time of James’s death, Bergson was president of the British Society for Psychical Research.

Creative Evolution is available on Google books, but I have ordered it in hardcopy and will post more after reading it carefully.   Given Stebbins and Astley’s residence in England after their retirement in 1907, it is possible that they were personally acquainted with both Bergson and Mathers.  Much more digging to do here.  James is also possible as a personal friend and not just an admired philosopher, in light of Stebbins’s residence in Boston in the early 1890s and longstanding interest in psychical research.